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The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Chicago White Sox History
Heart-Pounding, Jaw-Dropping, and Gut-Wrenching Moments from Chicago White Sox History
By Mark Gonzales
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2009 Mark Gonzales
All rights reserved.
DON'T STOP BELIEVIN' AFTER 88 YEARS
After four consecutive seasons without a division title, White Sox general manager Kenny Williams knew he had to infuse a plodding roster with pitching and speed to have any chance of knocking off perennial American League Central nemesis Minnesota before the 2005 season.
But midway through the winter meetings at the Anaheim Marriott, Williams had already struck out twice in attempts to reshape an underachieving, injury-plagued team.
He aimed high immediately, starting with his pursuit of free agent Gold Glove shortstop Omar Vizquel only to be trumped at the last minute by San Francisco, which was willing to give Vizquel a guaranteed third year that swayed him away from the White Sox.
Undaunted, Williams asked Arizona about the availability of Randy Johnson, a five-time Cy Young Award winner who was interested in pitching for a contender following the Diamondbacks' 111-loss season. But after Arizona asked for staff ace Mark Buehrle and Freddy Garcia in return, Williams quickly shifted gears.
Williams was determined to improve the White Sox's speed, pitching, and defense. He left the winter meetings with speedy but injury-prone leadoff batter Scott Podsednik and resilient reliever Luis Vizcaino. It came at the cost of slugger Carlos Lee, but it gave Williams the flexibility to make more moves by eliminating Lee's $8 million salary.
While scouting an Arizona Fall League game in November with assistant Dave Wilder, Williams ran into agent Casey Close. Williams and Close moved to a secluded area of Scottsdale Stadium and began talking about free-agent pitcher Dustin Hermanson, who showed his versatility with San Francisco by agreeing to move to the closer role for the final two months of 2004.
After meeting with Hermanson at a pizza restaurant he owned a share of in North Phoenix, Williams reached a two-year deal to help fortify the bullpen.
Nine days later, the Sox made a small move that would pay great dividends by claiming flamethrowing but unpolished pitcher Bobby Jenks from the Los Angeles Angels organization with the intent to groom him as a future closer at Double-A Birmingham.
Williams signed postseason pitching veteran Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez to be his fifth starter and to make fellow Cuban Jose Contreras feel more comfortable. After thoroughly talking to several sources, Williams also signed left-handed-hitting catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who was run out of San Francisco after only one season.
Perhaps Williams' best signing was his most curious. Relying on videotape as much as scouting reports, he signed Tadahito Iguchi to start at second base after eight modest seasons in Japan without the marquee hoopla of fellow countrymen Ichiro Suzuki and Hideo Nomo.
Rarely do new ingredients blend so well so quickly. The Sox went wire-to-wire to win their first American League Central title since 2000 with one of the wildest rides in recent history.
The crusade began April 4 when Mark Buehrle allowed only two hits over eight innings in a 1–0 Opening Day victory over Cleveland.
The Sox posted an American League–best 17–7 record in April, went 18–10 in May, and went a league-best 18–7 in June.
Thanks to Podsednik, the White Sox outscored their opponents 121–68 in the first inning, with the 121 runs representing the most in the first inning by any team in the majors that season.
The White Sox also ran off three eight-game winning streaks before July 1, becoming just the fifth team in the majors to accomplish this since 1900, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. And Buehrle earned the victory in the All-Star Game at Detroit that gave the American League home-field advantage in the World Series.
After the break, the White Sox swept division foe Cleveland in a four-game series to start the second half and had a seemingly commanding 15-game lead on August 1.
While much of the July 31 trade talk focused on Ken Griffey Jr. and Florida free-agent-to-be pitcher A.J. Burnett, Williams performed only some small fine-tuning by landing switch-hitting infielder Geoff Blum from San Diego for a minor league pitcher.
The White Sox's lead, however, shrunk to 8 ½ games after a seven-game losing streak in mid-August. They maintained a 9 ½-game lead with 24 contests left, but a four-game losing streak suddenly cut the lead to 5 ½games, and reliever Damaso Marte was asked to leave the team for a brief period after breaking one of manager Ozzie Guillen's rules.
The lead was cut to 1 ½games with 10 games left following a 4–1 home loss to Minnesota. Suddenly, the Sox had to rely on Contreras, whose lack of development caused the New York Yankees to trade him in the middle of the 2004 season, to direct them to the finish line.
Contreras beat the Twins the following night to help the Sox embark on a three-game winning streak. They didn't gain any ground on Cleveland, but the Sox regained their confidence under duress. Despite losing two games at Detroit, the Sox were finally benefiting from a long-awaited cool-off by Cleveland.
After embarking on a 43–15 run, the Indians lost at Kansas City, then dropped two straight at home to Tampa Bay while the Sox dropped a pair at Detroit.
"We feel like, 'What's going to be next?'" Guillen said. "I think someone has to step up and grab this team by the horns and take charge."
Contreras snapped the Sox's skid with an 8–2 win over the Tigers, and the Sox found out before their series finale at Comerica Park that a victory would give them the AL Central title.
The final out wasn't made until first baseman Paul Konerko squeezed Placido Polanco's line drive with the tying run at first. It came shortly after Konerko had a brief disagreement with coach Joey Cora over where to play Polanco.
"I wanted to move over to the left because I didn't want a double to tie the game," Konerko said. "I argued with Joey, who said to stay where I was. It was hit right at me. The last three weeks, the reverse of that was happening.
"If you said before the season that we were going to win the division, you're lying," said Konerko, who kept the ball from the last out in his locker.
Elation and relief steered the Sox's cigar-and-champagne-reeking bus drive from Detroit to Cleveland, where they were to play a three-game series against the Indians.
It also was a crazy time for third baseman Joe Crede, who returned in time to be on the field for the final out after missing two games to attend the birth of his daughter Lucy Renee.
Shortly after arriving in Cleveland, the Sox's traveling party received a big surprise. Frank Thomas, who hadn't played since July 20 after reinjuring his foot, threw a party for his teammates.
"It was good," Thomas said later. "I had been there a long time and had been through some struggles. I saw the organization when I got there, and to get to that level ... it was assumed, but it was a long haul. It was the least I could do, because we were reaching where we wanted to be."
The party gave Guillen another reason to rest his regulars and start his reserves against a Cleveland team still fighting for a playoff spot. With a blend of benchwarmers and regulars, the Sox knocked Cleveland out of playoff contention with a three-game sweep.
Guillen took great delight at the expense of his critics after his reserves finished off the Indians in a 13-inning 3–2 win after a Ross Gload double.
"People were killing me because I don't respect the game," Guillen said. "They only worry about it because it was Boston and New York [in contention]. I did what every manager in baseball does. After you clinch, you always play the bench guys.
"But Ozzie Guillen did it and he's stupid and ignorant and doesn't know about baseball. Bobby Cox does it and he's a genius. Even when I win, I can't win. I want to win more than anyone else.
"Sometimes I just laugh at people's comments. People think I just got here, like this is my first playoff I've ever been to."
Clinching the division and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs gave the Sox time to set their rotation and postseason roster before their Division Series matchup with Boston.
The Sox routed Boston 14–2 in the first game, and then took advantage of Tony Graffanino's error and rode Tadahito Iguchi's grand slam off David Wells to a 5–4 win in Game 2.
The Sox were looking for the sweep in Game 3 while also trying to avoid facing Red Sox ace Curt Schilling in a possible Game 4. The Sox were in danger of heading in that direction after a heavily perspired Freddy Garcia threw 98 pitches and was pulled in the sixth inning after allowing a leadoff home run to Manny Ramirez that cut the lead to 4–3.
Marte loaded the bases on a single and two walks, with Pierzynski firing the ball back to the mound and glaring into the dugout after each errant pitch.
That set the stage for Orlando Hernandez to salvage his injury-plagued season.
Once destined to be a spectator, Hernandez pitched his way onto the postseason roster by throwing a scoreless inning in the Sox's 12-inning win over the Indians during the season's final week, then hurling two scoreless innings two days later.
So Guillen summoned Hernandez, a Cuban defector who thrived on pitching on baseball's biggest stages as evidenced by his 9–3 postseason record with the New York Yankees.
Hernandez induced pinch-hitter Jason Varitek to foul out to first and Tony Graffanino to pop to short after a 10-pitch at-bat.
That set up a showdown with Johnny Damon, Boston's single-slapping left-handed hitter. But Hernandez teased Damon to chase a breaking pitch before he could check his swing, and umpire Mark Wegner called Damon out as the Sox ran off the field like children leaving their final day of elementary school.
"I know this kid is going to show up with cold blood," Guillen said after Hernandez helped the Sox advance to the ALCS with a 5–3 win.
Guillen got the highest praise — from chairman Jerry Reinsdorf — over the decision to carry Hernandez on the roster.
"I was hoping we could get out of it [giving up just one] run," a champagne-soaked Reinsdorf said. "I have to give Ozzie credit. There was very serious debate whether El Duque was on the roster, but Ozzie and Don Cooper wanted him and Kenny Williams deferred to them. He came up big."
The Sox's three days off before Game 1 of the AL Championship Series proved to be little advantage as the Los Angeles Angels flew all night after knocking out the Yankees in the other ALDS and beat the Sox 3–2 behind the crafty pitching of Paul Byrd.
Game 2 looked nearly as tough for the Sox as A.J. Pierzynski swung and missed at a Kelvim Escobar pitch with two out in the bottom of the ninth inning and the score tied 1–1.
Pierzynski started toward the Sox dugout but, like an option quarterback, reversed his course and ran toward first base as Angels catcher Josh Paul (who entered the game in the bottom of the eighth) rolled the ball back to the mound as his teammates headed toward the first-base dugout.
Pierzynski reached base safely, and home-plate umpire Doug Eddings ruled that Paul never caught Escobar's third strike. That set off a firestorm of anger from the Angels well after Joe Crede ripped a game-winning double down the left-field line to score pinch runner Pablo Ozuna and give the Sox a 2–1 win and the momentum.
The irony is that Paul was born near Chicago and grew up rooting for the White Sox and was eventually drafted by them in 1996.
Despite playing the next three games at Angel Stadium, the Sox's confidence was in their starting pitching. And it proved well placed, as Jon Garland (pitching on 12 days' rest), Freddy Garcia, and Jose Contreras each pitched complete-game victories that sent the Sox to the World Series for the first time since 1959.
Fittingly, pitching coach Don Cooper and each of the Sox's starters posed on the Angels' mound with bottles of champagne and cigars to celebrate their conquest.
With five days before Game 1 of the World Series, the Sox took two days off before gradually getting back into game shape and even holding simulated games for their starting pitchers who had received an extended break.
Their final opponent was Houston, making its first World Series appearance in franchise history. The Astros had a mixture of veterans — like aging Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens, Jeff Bagwell, and Craig Biggio — and promising stars — like first baseman Lance Berkman, closer Brad Lidge, and third baseman Morgan Ensberg.
"A lot of people should enjoy it," Buehrle said at the time. "Growing up as a baseball fan, I kind of got tired seeing the same teams in the World Series."
The Sox scored three runs in the first two innings of Game 1 against Clemens, who aggravated his hamstring under damp conditions. Contreras wasn't as dominant as he had been in the past, but he earned the victory as Crede hit a tie-breaking home run in the fourth in a 5–3 win.
The final three innings of Game 2 rank as some of the most memorable highlights in Sox history. Trailing 4–2, Paul Konerko ripped Chad Qualls' first pitch into the left-field seats for a grand slam in the seventh that gave the Sox the lead that stood until rookie closer Bobby Jenks allowed a two-out, two-run, pinch-hit single to Jose Vizcaino in the ninth.
As temperatures dipped into the low 40s, the thought of a home run seemed unlikely, especially to a batter like Scott Podsednik — who had not hit a home run in 507 regular-season at-bats — and especially off Astros closer Brad Lidge.
"Walking up to the plate, I was thinking more along the lines of slapping a base hit to left and stealing second," Podsednik revealed later.
But the slender Podsednik ripped a Lidge pitch high and deep to right center that seemed to guile its way over the fence, sending a soggy U.S. Cellular Field crowd into delirium.
"I didn't think it would be that quick or on a homer by him," Konerko said.
It was the perfect sendoff for Podsednik, who grew up 200 miles outside of Houston and was returning to his home state for Games 3 and 4.
"It's pretty indescribable," said Podsednik, who had recently become engaged to model-actress Lisa Dergan.
The bat that Podsednik used to hit the home run was later delivered to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
"That's pretty special," Podsednik said. "If that doesn't define irony, I don't know what does."
During the Sox's off-day workout at Minute Maid Park, Buehrle placed his valuable left arm in a basket of ice. He was in obvious discomfort but wasn't scheduled to pitch again unless there was a Game 6 back in Chicago.
Little did anyone know how badly Buehrle would be needed. Against Roy Oswalt, the Astros' best pitcher, the Sox found themselves down 4–0 after four innings in Game 3. But as they did in Game 2 of the ALDS, the Sox proved a four-run deficit wasn't insurmountable. They rallied on Joe Crede's home run and A.J. Pierzynski's two-run double to take a 5–4 lead. Emotions ran deeper after Oswalt drilled Crede with a pitch, prompting Crede to stare into the Astros dugout.
Houston manager Phil Garner, no favorite of White Sox GM Kenny Williams, yelled at Crede. That prompted designated hitter Carl Everett, who was resigned to bench duty in Houston because NL parks don't employ the DH, to climb to the top of the dugout steps to scream at Garner.
"It's best that I don't talk about Phil Garner," Williams said the next day. "I had problems with him even before he said those things about my players, and it's just best kept between the two of us. I have no reason or desire to speak to him about anything."
The Sox got the last laugh, as Garner's emotions grew louder on baseball's biggest stage.
Houston tied the game in their half of the eighth before the game went into extra innings. Reserve Geoff Blum entered the game as part of a double-switch in the bottom of the thirteenth, but his bat became more important than his defense.
In the top of the fourteenth, Blum dropped the barrel of his bat on a pitch from rookie Ezequiel Astacio and hit it into the right-field seats to give the Sox a 6–5 lead.
"It's the stuff dreams are made of," said Blum, whose wife had given birth to twin girls earlier that season while playing for San Diego. "I've had about a hundred of these at-bats in my backyard with my younger brother. But to do it on this stage and in this situation makes this year incredibly worthwhile."
Television cameras caught Garner heaving a chair into the dugout tunnel.
With closer Bobby Jenks already out of the game, the Sox called upon Buehrle to get the final out with the tying runs on base.
"I wasn't hurt that bad not to pitch," Buehrle said. "I asked [Don Cooper] as the game went along in the seventh or eighth inning. We used a few guys less than an inning and went through the bullpen. I think [Cooper] got sick of me asking him from the tenth inning on. Finally he said, 'Go ahead, get out of here and get your cleats on.' I think he did that just to get me out of the dugout.
Excerpted from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Chicago White Sox History by Mark Gonzales. Copyright © 2009 Mark Gonzales. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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